On Stage 

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Blood Relative -- No one knew exactly what would come of Traveling Jewish Theatre's long-awaited Middle East Project, a piece about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict created with international artists, but it was a fair bet it wouldn't be all bunnies and daffodils. That's evident from the very first moment of Blood Relative, in which half-Arab, half-Israeli Ibi (similarly Palestinian-Israeli guest artist Ibrahim Miari) staggers in with a bandaged nose and a bloodied shirt and sets about upturning his apartment in impotent rage. From that point on, we're guests in Ibi's apartment as well as in his head, as he stubbornly refuses to be drawn out of either one. In its delicate balance between rib-tickling satire and gut-punching satire, the comedy here proves as thought-provoking as the tragedy. -- S.H. (Through April 17 at the Traveling Jewish Theatre and April 21 through May 1 at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts; ATJT.com or 415-285-8080.)

For Better or Worse -- In case anyone needed reminding, Geoff Hoyle is a very, very funny man. To call him a clown is to understate the case; he's more like a force of farce. So it's natural that he decided to take on Georges Feydeau, heavyweight French farceur. Hoyle was fascinated by five works from late in the author's life, the one-act "bedroom farces." Hoyle couldn't find exactly what he wanted, so he took two of the one-acts, did a new translation, and has put them together as For Better or Worse, a slapsticky examination of the perils of family life that would ring true in any era set in France just before the Great War. The result is charming, although a bit thin. The material is funny -- Feydeau created intricately wacky situations that beg to be overplayed in exactly the way Hoyle and costar Sharon Lockwood do. It's as if, however, there's a piece missing. It's all adorable and saucy, but it could really use a third act, or a little more of a plot. Or maybe this recipe just needs a little more Hoyle. -- L.D. (Through April 24 at the Berkeley Rep; BerkeleyRep.org or 510-647-2949.)

The Unexpected Man -- This last-minute replacement for Yasmina Reza's popular Art offers Bay Area audiences a rare glimpse at the French playwright's other work. Kevin T. Morales should be applauded for presenting this deliciously nuanced comedy at all, and his minimal staging gives the players room to unleash Reza's ample wit. The action is all inaction, alternating interior monologues of two strangers on a train: a misanthropic novelist stewing in bitterness, and a huge fan of his work who finds herself seated across from him and unable to bring herself to start a conversation. -- S.H. (Through April 10 at Town Hall Theatre; THTC.org or 925-283-1557.)


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